Al Horford and the Celtics have given themselves another shot at the NBA title

Al Horford and the Celtics have given themselves another shot at the NBA title

Al Horford thanked God because in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals he was hit.

Two years after leaving the Boston Celtics in free agency, Horford’s former team gave him another chance, reclaiming a contract that the Philadelphia 76ers and Oklahoma City Thunder had canceled in the meantime. The 15-year-old veteran paid every penny with a playoff career-high 30 points that saved the Celtics’ season and gave him another title shot with a team he led to back-to-back conference finals. there is an NBA life.

Faced with the possibility of a 3-1 series deficit against the best player alive and his defending champions, Horford scored 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting in a stunning fourth-quarter comeback that brought the second-round slugfest Boston with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks to a 2-2 series draw.

Another playoff gap in a career full of them stared Horford in the face. A minute into the third quarter, Antetokounmpo dived Horford and looked him in the eye, earning a technical foul for taunting. Horford had drawn the toughest defensive task in the league once Robert Williams III was a late injury and Grant Williams got himself into trouble, and Antetokounmpo was abusing the old man.

Horford simply nodded in response and said “OK” out loud, as if marking the moment.

“I don’t know what he said to me, but the way he was looking at me and the way he was going about it really didn’t sit well with me,” Horford told reporters, “and at that point , something has changed with me.”

Milwaukee’s lead increased to 76-65 with 15:13 remaining on Antetokounmpo’s 13th point in the third quarter. Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 16 rebounds to Horford’s 14 and 5 at that time. The season was winding down. Likewise, this might have been Horford’s last best chance in a ring. The final year of the $109 million contract he signed in 2019 isn’t fully guaranteed next season, nor is Boston’s path to the Finals.

So, one month shy of his 36th birthday, Horford went to work in the fourth quarter against the most dominant force since Shaquille O’Neal and took a 116-108 victory. After 10 minutes, he rounded Antetokounmpo, dove him and flexed, inadvertently elbowing the Bucks superstar and getting his own technical foul. The return on investment tied the game for the first time since the final minute of the second quarter.

“Man, we love Al,” Celtics teammate Marcus Smart said. “He’s the best vet I’ve ever had.”

“A lot of people at 35 can’t even play that way,” Antetokounmpo, 27, said of Horford in his post-match press conference. “Hopefully we can be blessed when we’re in his shoes, and when we get older we’ll still be in the league and we can still compete at the highest level. That’s the goal. He’s playing amazing, and that’s why they were still in the game. You always have to give credit where credit is due.

Horford was not done punishing. His 3-pointer with eight minutes remaining gave Boston its first lead of the second half, 88-85. Milwaukee wouldn’t submit, reclaiming the lead, so Horford found Jayson Tatum for a layup and a tie midway through the fourth. Horford drilled another 3 for a lead on the next possession. His and another 30 seconds later gave the Celtics a two-possession lead they would not give up.

“I remember coming in my freshman year and seeing Al Horford,” said Tatum, the 24-year-old rising star who scored 30 points himself. “I’ve seen him play all my life. … He’s helped me a lot in the three years we’ve played together, and I’m very lucky and blessed to be able to call Al a teammate.”

Horford lay back on the court after withstanding that final shot and watched the ball find the net in his only 30-point game in four seasons with the Celtics. Tatum patted his chest, as if to resurrect Horford, who was given another life as a basketball player. He is two wins away from beating the team that finished its last tour of duty in green and 10 from NBA immortality, as a championship would secure his place in the Hall of Fame.

“I’m really grateful for this opportunity that I have,” the five-time All-Star said. “…It’s sitting at home [last year]. That’s watching the playoffs. It’s because I didn’t know what my future held for me.”

The Bucks are hell to play, but Al Horford can see the light.

Boston Celtics veteran Al Horford scored a playoff career-high 30 points against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4. (Michael McLoone/USA Today Sports)

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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